We’ve all been there.
We’ve all sat across from a brother/sister in the faith at Starbucks, our favorite drink in hand, having a normal conversation when out of nowhere, they say something that you know will have a profound impact on all those involved. It’s those three words that breaks hearts, tears ministries apart, and cause some to walk away from the faith.
What three words could possibly hold so much weight that some would count the faith as a lie and walk away?
It’s simple. The three words that will test your friendship the most are “I messed up”.
It doesn’t matter what that other person did. It could be something that personally affects you (like someone cheating with your partner or lying about you) or it could be something that has nothing to do with you (like sexual sin or an addiction of some sort). Either way, hearing your brother or sister admit to you that they have fallen into sin is heartbreaking (for many reasons). For one, it grieves the heart of God when His children chose sin over Him. In addition to that, you know that engaging in sin bears consequences, some of which there may no coming back from fully. There is now mistrust, gossip, false assumptions, and all sorts of things your friend will now be at the center of.
And take it from someone who was personally in the middle of that circle at one time: when falling into sin isn’t handled well by the church, it can do irrefutable damage to an already hurting soul.
So then, what should we do when our brother/sister stumbles?
- First and foremost, PRAY. Pray with them, right there and then, and pray for them every day afterwards. Ask for a heart to understand what they are going through. Ask God to allow you to see them as He does, no matter how hurt you may feel. While your feelings are valid (especially if it was a personal offense against you), understand that they now find themselves in the center of a storm and most likely feel betrayed by a lot of people.
- Encourage them. This will adjust to their specific situation, but look for ways to encourage them, get them back on their feet, and help them walk towards Christ again. For example, if they fell into sexual sin, have that “tough” conversation (in love). Help them set up boundaries so they can’t fall again. Be their accountability. Then encourage them along the way and be there for them when they’re tempted.
- Look for tangible ways to bless them. This doesn’t always mean monetarily, but it’s important for them to see tangible proof that they are loved. When I fell into sin back in 2013, I felt so alone and unloved. This couple from our church blessed my (now) husband and I with a completely unexpected gift towards our baby. Some of my closer (former) best friends couldn’t even show up for my baby shower, but this couple’s generous gift was a huge neon sign of God’s love to me when I began to doubt it most. Even if you can’t afford something like that, look for ways to serve your brother or sister.
- Most importantly, be there for them. You most likely will be the one initiating the conversations with them. I can’t speak for everyone, but I didn’t want to contact anyone after I sinned. I was ashamed. I felt like an embarrassment. The only conversations I had for a while were ones initiated by other people. I had few friends during that time, but I am thankful to God for those conversations and relationships. Call them. Text them. Show up at their house with pizza. Just be there for them.
The worst thing you could do now is turn your back on them. Are there some people who aren’t actually saved at church and sin without caring? Yes, they exist in every church. (You should still love those people, by the way). However, I’m referring to a believer that falls into sin and is repentant. You should love everyone, but you should especially love your brother/sister that is repentant of their sin and in need of the tangible grace and mercy of God.
Simply put, what should you do when your brother sins? The same thing you should do every single day of your life.
Be Christ-like. Be Gospel-centered. Be Jesus.
“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” – James 5:19-20